September 15, 2002
Saddam's nukes are a western myth
By ERIC MARGOLIS -- Contributing Foreign Editor
BARCELONA, Spain -- Does Iraq have nuclear weapons?
Last week, Britain's authoritative International
Institute for Strategic Studies issued a study that
concluded Iraq had the ability to produce a few
nuclear devices, but lacked the enriched uranium or
plutonium to do so.
The institute's report seemed timed to provide more
justification for a U.S.-British attack on Iraq. The
U.S. and British governments as well as world media
seized on the report to intensify claims that Iraq was
a grave nuclear threat.
As a long-time member of the institute, I was
disappointed that it would appear to bend to pressure
from the British government by producing a report that
was misleading and sensational. Instead of supporting
"regime change" in Baghdad, the IISS might do better
to review its own weak leadership at London HQ.
Iraq has no nuclear weapons or fissionable materials.
This fact has been certified by the UN's nuclear
inspection agency. As to IISS claims Iraq has the
capability to produce nuclear devices, so do more than
40 nations. Making a nuclear weapon is relatively
simple. Take 4-9 kilos of highly enriched uranium or
plutonium, surrounded with a specially shaped shell of
high-explosive lenses, and detonate.
The recipe is available on the Internet. The trick is
acquiring highly enriched uranium or plutonium. This
process requires hugely expensive, laborious
separation and enrichment using banks of centrifuges,
as well as expertise in fusing, and shaped-charge
In the 1980s, Iraq was indeed working on a crude
nuclear weapon. Saudi Arabia secretly funded this top
secret project in order to counter Israel's large
nuclear arsenal, believed to number over 200 devices.
Iraq acquired uranium from South Africa in exchange
for oil. South Africa, which produced eight nuclear
devices, secretly obtained its nuclear weapons
technology from Israel. Ironically, South Africa later
sold the Israeli uranium enrichment technology to
The Bush Sr. trap
When Saddam Hussein stumbled into the trap laid for
him by George Bush Sr. by invading Kuwait in 1990, his
scientists were within a few years of producing a
primitive nuclear test device. During the 1991 Gulf
war, Iraq's total nuclear and, in fact, total national
industrial infrastructure, were pulverized by massive
U.S. bombing. Before the war, Iraq had been the most
technologically developed and best educated nation in
the Arab world. After, Iraq was reduced to pre-World
War I level, with even its water and sewage systems
wrecked by America's ruthless air campaign.
However, Iraq still retains a cadre of about 10,000
trained nuclear scientists and technicians. Unless
they are all shot, Iraq will in theory be able one day
to build a nuclear weapon, provided it can obtain
fissionable material. Once the crushing blockade of
Iraq is lifted, Baghdad might be able to produce one
or two nuclear warheads within five years. But having
warheads and delivering them are two different things.
Iraq lacks aircraft or missiles to deliver nuclear
weapons beyond a range of 70 miles.
Iraq is a leading Arab nation with the Mideast's
second largest oil reserves. Unless the U.S. succeeds
in implanting and maintaining a compliant regime in
Baghdad, such as it has done in Kabul, whatever brutal
general that succeeds Saddam will eventually seek
nuclear weapons. Why?
First, to counter Israel's nuclear monopoly. Israel is
considered a mortal threat by the Arabs and Iranians.
Second, because Iraq fears neighbouring Iran, which
has three times its population. Interestingly, every
Iraqi leader since the 1920s has vowed to invade
Kuwait and reunite it with Iraq. Why, in fact, should
Iraq not have the right to possess nuclear weapons to
protect its vast oil reserves?
President Bush claimed last week that an attack on
Iraq was justified because it had refused to bow to UN
resolutions and had weapons of mass destruction. Bush
could just as well have been talking about Israel,
which ignores scores of UN resolutions and refuses to
admit nuclear arms inspectors. Or of India, which also
ignores UN resolutions on Kashmir, and is developing a
very large nuclear arsenal with Israeli aid, that
includes nuclear-armed ICBM missiles that will soon be
able to reach the U.S.
The original 1990 UN resolution authorizing military
action to evict Iraq from Kuwait had a little-noticed
article that called for the Security Council to
immediately begin a process of regional nuclear arms
control and disarmament. This provision was totally
ignored, yet it offers a key to the Iraq problem.
Instead of Bush threatening a war of pure aggression
against Iraq - what used to be called "warmongering" -
the U.S., European Union and Canada should begin an
intensive campaign to rid the Mideast of nuclear,
chemical, and biological weapons. Regional disarmament
cannot be accomplished until all nations, including
Israel and Iran, are thoroughly inspected by impartial
specialists - Canadians would be ideal. There must be
no repeat of the 1990s, when many UN inspectors in
Iraq turned out to be U.S. and Israeli spies whose job
was to target Saddam Hussein for assassination.
President Bush might even begin this overdue process
by getting rid of a lot more of his own weapons of
Eric can be reached by e-mail at
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